My own personal stance against religious hypocrisy - both my own, and any others who seek to hurt people in the name of God.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Absolutely

Our human lives seem geared to thinking in absolutes. When we say something is "good", the implication seems to be there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it. When we say it is "bad", the opposite is true.

My in-laws are very much this way when referencing those they love. They simply cannot acknowledge the wrong-doing of those who fall within their love. They will not admit it. To admit those they love have broken some law is to say they don't love them.

At the same time, those who they acknowledge as "wrong-doers" don't get a lot of love. It's an extremist way of thinking, and it is shared by millions of people around the world.

Why?

Do we not acknowledge our own sins? Does this mean we hate ourselves? God doesn't want that anymore than he wants us hating others. And speaking of God, do we not agree that God loves us? All of us? And yet what does he say about us?

To Peter, when Peter tried to talk him out of doing God's will: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but men." This is recorded immediately after Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ!

Again, in Matthew: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your hildren, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good thins t othose who ask him!"

"You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil?"

But God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

God tells us we are saved by grace. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 Revised Standard Version

God also tells us that there are behaviors and attitudes he expects from us. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24 Revised Standard Version

And we are given a list of behaviors and attitudes to avoid. Now the works of the flesh are plain; fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 Revised Standard Version

For centuries people have argued heatedly over what it means to be "saved by grace". Some erroneously believe that those who hold that salvation is through grace, and grace alone, are advocating some sort of lip service to God which frees them to commit any horrible act they choose.

At the same time, the "grace holders" accuse the others of being works orientated, ignoring God's gift of forgiveness.

It is confusing only when we think in terms of absolutes. The truth is, there is no conflict in the statements. One simply must understand just what it is God is telling us.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Galatians 5:16-18 Revised Standard Version

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17 Revised Standard Version

Let us consider four (4) scenarios. They each represent a kind of person. When I speak of "acknowledging God" I am talking of accepting forgiveness which was given through Jesus Christ.

Person 1: Does not acknowledge God and does all of the things God says not to do and virtually none of the things God requires.

Person 2: Does not acknowledge God and does some of the things God says not to do and tries to do all of the things God requires.

Person 3: Acknowledges God but does a lot of the things God says not to do and virtually none of the things God requires.

Person 4: Acknowledges God and does some of the things God says not to do and tries to do all of the things God requires.

If all four people were truly as they are described, which two will go to heaven and which two will be excluded? The answer is that Persons 3 and 4 go to heaven - by virtue of having accepted God's forgiveness. Persons 1 and 2 are excluded for rejecting God's forgiveness.

But James seems to be telling us something. What?

It has to do with Persons 2 and 3. Let us first consider Person 3.

Supposedly, Person 3 has accepted God's forgiveness. But have they? There is certainly no evidence of it. When a person accepts God's forgiveness they are "baptized" into God's family. The Holy Spirit enters their body and dwells inside them with their own spirit. This gives them both the power and the (growing) will to behave like God. So why isn't this person desiring to behave like God? Why are they behaving like Person 1? What James is telling us is that it is very likely that Person 3 is a liar, seeking to create a false image in the minds of the other Persons. But God is not deceived. He knows where his Spirit resides and where it has been excluded. Person 3 will NOT go to heaven because Person 3 is lying when they say they have accepted God's forgiveness.

Now let's look at Person 2. Person 2 is behaving a lot like Person 4, except Person 2 seems to be having trouble acknowledging Jesus. On the surface, it would seem they are a pitiful case because without God's forgiveness they cannot go to heaven. But what does Jesus himself say about these people?

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the lease of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" Matthew 25:31-40 Revised Standard Version

To the Person 3 types he says the opposite.

So what is going on? Works or faith?

Both.

You see, if you have true, God-forgiving, faith, your life will change. You won't do this in order to achieve grace and forgiveness, you will do this because you have grace and forgiveness.

What Jesus is saying is that it is possible to have faith in him and not even realize it. Just as it is possible to say you have faith and not. God knows. He is not fooled. Some do things out of pride and confidence in their own ability. This excludes faith in God. Some do things out of faith in God. This, by definition, includes Jesus, for Jesus is God. But some people don't like the name and use another. There is only one God, so if the faith is real, we are worshiping the same God.

It seems a paradox, but it isn't.

My son helps me around the house because he is my son. When his friends come by and help him with helping me that does not make them my children. In order for them to become my children I must adopt them. It is not their choice, although I would certainly not adopt a child who did not want me to adopt them. That's the way it is with God. He adopts us into his family. Not because we do things, but because he wants to and we said yes.

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